Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:

 

Conservative:

Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.

 

Liberal:

Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.

 

Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.

 

Reactionary:

Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.

 

Radical:

Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.

 

The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.

 

The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.

 

Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income

 

Capitalism:

Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

 

Socialism:

Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

 

Communism:

Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.

 

Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.

 

Democracy:

Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.

 

Republic:

Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.

 

Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President

 

Fascism:

Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

 
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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Killing Pubic Education: Local Edition

As a member of my local neighborhood association board I participated in the "back to school picnic" at our "new" local ellementary school. This was a particularly important event seeing as my son will start school next year and this year our local ellementary school was closed and the students shoved into the existing middle school.

Saturday was my first look inside and out of the "new" building. It was particularly depressing. The new building was built much later, with shoddy 1960's construction visible throughout. The recently painted over graffiti didnt help, nor the tiny and worn kitchen and dining facitilities. Compared to the wonderful brick and steel structure much closer to home, this was an emberrasment to everyone in the neighborhood.

The entire affair is but one morsel in the school funding/reform stew. Recently my cousin announced her interest in "home schooling" her three kids. My father, both a private high school (prep school) teacher and a retired private college professor expressed his immediate dismay. Along with the obvious concerns of teaching one's children about subjects one is not an expert in or with out a fully equiped library, science lab, or gym... my father was also probably wondering about the important socialization aspects of Public Education.

My father grew up in NY City and went to school both in Manhattan and in Staten Island... in working class, steel worker's kid's schools. He has few illusions about the system. But learning to deal with bullies and social rejects, as well as chasing prom queen, does quite a bit to prepare our youth for "real life". Ok, so preparation for college might still need some work. But turning our back on public education will certainly do little to improve it. And when only private schools are left, well, we will all be home schooling our kids. In this light here is my letter to my neighbors:

Letter To My Neighbors

The closure of RCPE was a grave mistake. There is no better use for the building and the decline in students was a temporary response to cyclical demographics. We should not be trying to figure out what else to do with the building, but working even harder to bring it back to use as a local school.

Declining Enrollment

Yes, Portland schools are losing students to suburban districts with cheaper housing. However, unlike many urban “donuts” Portland still has strong inner city business districts such as Belmont and Mississippi and popular residential neighborhoods like Irvington and Mt. Tabor. The wealthy young professionals who live in these areas will soon age into families with children. The best way to retain these families is to keep their local schools intact and healthy.

According to PPS data Portland has had two major student booms, one after WWI and another after WWII, that showed up roughly 5 years after the wars ended. In normal years school enrollment has been 10-12% of our city population, while the boom years were 18-20%. We are currently in a dip of 8-10% with only 45k students (made worse since "school reform" in 1999). But after our soldiers come home from the Middle East we should see another boom about 5 years later.

If our population continues at current trends we would have about 600,000 residents in 2012 (we have about 570k today). Even in lean years that would be a student population of 50-60k, about the same as the 1950's. In a boom cycle we could expect 120k, which is higher even than the record of the 1960’s at 79k. We do not have enough schools even now for those numbers, let alone if we close some of them.

Rose City Park Elementary

Rose City Park Elementary was built in 1912 and has seen steady enrollment of around 500 students ever since. In past decades local families had 5-6 children each, while today they may have just one. However, there are more developed plots today and therefore more families in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, more families are either moving in or sprouting up as existing households age. Therefore, a recent drop to about 400 students seems sure to reverse.

The building features red brick and terra cotta detailing for which Portland is well known. It occupies a contiguous campus of two city blocks with a paved sports area, two play structures, and a lush community garden installed by neighbors. It is surrounded by quiet residential streets on three sides and affronts a minor local arterial. The size and style of the building nicely complements the craftsman and English bungalows that surround it.

The school is staffed by 17 teachers; including 4 special instructors for PE, ESL, and Special Ed. There is a full time counselor, a librarian, and a Spanish translator. There are also a part time speech therapist, psychologist, occupational therapist, adaptive PE instructor, and 3 educational assistants. Finally there is a single principle and 2 secretaries – rather light administrative overhead.

RCPE is well supported by community and business involvement both with time (over 1000 volunteer hours a year) and with money (matching fundraiser contributions). This enables RCPE to offer a wide variety of extra programs including kindergarten, TAG, theatre, ballet, tennis, and Math Club. There are weekly school assemblies, monthly parent coffee sessions, and a host of seasonal events honored at the school.

RCPE consistently ranks above the state average overall, reporting as "Strong" (or a 4/5), and on subject tests of reading (89% in '06), math (94% in '06), science (92% in '06), and writing (68% in '06). RCPE won an Excellence In Learning award in 2001 for its art program that included the work of students and an “artist in residence” painted on the hallway walls. They also have a dedicated art studio, a Family Arts Night, and successful fundraisers such as “Run For The Arts”.

RCPE is regularly mentioned as a strong selling point in local real estate fliers. When local pundits discuss school performance RCPE is often sited as an example of a great local school program. The loss of the building was recently lamented on a local architecture blog and was widely debated on the Oregonian website. Although citizens seem resigned to its loss, almost no one has argued in favor of the closure.

School Reform

The closure of RCPE is part of a larger effort to "reform" our local school system that was begun with the advent of federal testing in 1999. The major components of this reform are the "charter school", the "subject specific academy", and the "K8 movement". Presented as a way to improve public education this reform may actually end public education entirely.

Charter schools, as defined by wikipedia, are local schools that are pulled out of the regular public school system, granted waivers on issues such as de-segregation or separation of church and state, and allowed to pursue one or another academic benchmark in particular such as science or the arts.

Often these schools cannot report statistics or are exempted from state and federal standards. In the 2004 state report on charter school performance it was noted that only 70% of charter schools were even given an AYP ranking compared to 95% of regular schools and then only 17 of 39 charter schools could met this standards.

Subject specific academies offer smaller student bodies per "school". The hope is that administrators and teachers will be able to maintain closer connections to kids if they have fewer students. These schools often pick an area of academic expertise and allow student transfers as a way to participate in a district wide system of "choice".

However, often there are several such schools housed in one building (often the original school building). The increased number of classes with similar or smaller class sizes requires more teachers, more classrooms, and more money. Portland schools already rank 4th in the nation for small class sizes with an average ratio pf 20-1. Meanwhile a review of Jefferson High by the Cascade Policy Institute suggests that socio-economic factors and community support have a greater impact on test scores than class sizes.

Meanwhile, recent court cases have blocked school districts from bussing students out of their area (such bussing also represents additional expense). Instead of increased choice, many families are forced to choose a subject area or academic level such as college prep or mechanics when their kids are still quite young. Others have this choice made by where they can afford to live. Many people worry that this is a return to both racial segregation and class division.

The school voucher movement diverts tax money and students into private, and often religious, schools. Although it has been argued that vouchers help poorer families send their kids to better schools in practice they have helped very few. There are additional costs to private schools other than tuition, from commuting to sports and travel, and these families cannot afford to keep their children competitive at these private schools.

The K8 Movement

The Middle School dates from Bay City, MI in 1950, while the Junior High began in Columbus, OH in 1909. They were designed to meet the changing of emotional and educational needs of students undergoing puberty and moving into the more academically rigorous world of high school (college prep).

Starting around 2000, with the move to federal education standards and benchmark testing, the question of Middle School performance moved into the public spotlight. Apparently these schools were underperforming as compared to elementary and high schools. It seemed that a move to reform middle schools was necessary and the only alternative to charter schools or vouchers was to push these students back into grade schools.

It has been argued that keeping young teens in the elementary will help their academic performance. It is also argued that these students can reach back and help their younger peers as "mentors". Others simply say that shuttering the old middle schools will save districts money.

Some studies do show a small improvement in academics. A study of Philadelphia’s K8 schools in 2001 noted a 1/10 letter-grade improvement. However, a previous study from Georgia in 1998 suggests that community involvement and teacher training have a larger impact on student performance than restructuring. Even the Philadelphia study included some traditional middle schools that had student scores that were better than the K8’s.

The K8 system might perform better just by lessening the disruption to academics that changing schools and academic systems can cause. However, this only postpones and increases the inevitable shock of moving on to high school. Data is not yet in on how difficult this will prove for students currently being "held back" in K8 schools.

It is hard to see how young people who are undergoing difficult life changes and attempting to step up their study habits to prepare for high school can serve as mentors to younger students. These kids are necessarily self-involved and unstable and may not be the best role models. Do 4th and 6th graders even need mentors? It might be a better idea to have high school students mentor to middle school students.

New charter schools and academies often rely upon their old buildings for their new homes. Often these buildings cannot be converted for other tenants (picture bathroom sinks at knee height). Even with falling enrollment the buildings are kept in anticipation of future needs (which will come unless the entire city population declines). So, money still needs to be spent to heat and maintain closed schools.

The other issue is of course proper administration and staffing at any school. Often middle schools are the neglected stepchild of the school system. State policies have been unclear on proper credentialing for middle school teachers (are they elementary or high school teachers?). These schools are often under-funded and under-staffed (should they even have high school style sports and music programs?). However, middle schools that are run with adequate funding and support often score even better than their K8 counterparts (as in Philadelphia).

The final defense of school reform is to increase the choices available to students and their parents. However, we already have many private options for families to indoctrinate their children with a specific religion or culture (traditional Sunday schools). But the only alternative to private schools, those with specific pedagogies (Montessori) or religious backing (Catholic), is public schools. We need to maintain existing successful schools in the traditional modes of elementary, middle, and high schools even if we add new models.

Building Renovation

Many of Portland's school buildings are old and in need of retrofits to improve their energy efficiency, health, and comfort... but so do many great buildings. Since we know that we will need more schools in the future, unless our entire city collapses, the question is are the old buildings worth refitting or demolishing for new construction?

Our city has committed to Kyoto-style environmental requirements. Several new city and county buildings have green roofs, recent renovations on Sandy Blvd added bio-swales, and all new public buildings must now meet strict LEED standards for environmental quality. Therefore, we need to consider the environmental impact of demolishing old school buildings.

Demolishing a structure often releases toxic elements "trapped" within the structure such as led paint, asbestos, and even mold. The manufactured material in the building represents tons of carbon invested in its production and scrapping the material can be considered as fresh carbon emission. The machines needed to demo and haul the material represent even more carbon emissions (not to mention disruption and hazard to the local ecology and to the neighborhood)

One of the most "green" moves is to "not build" at all, but rather to refurbish old structures. This saves the carbon emissions of new materials and the heavy equipment needed to reclaim the site. Portland has many options for eco-friendly renovations with at least three major businesses devoted to saving and improving old structures (think of the Rebuilding Center on Mississippi). Therefore renovating existing school buildings is probably the most responsible environmental choice.

Moving Forward

The school reform movement siphons students, funding, and parent support from traditional public schools with out delivering improvements. Some reformers have even admitting to trying kill off free secular education entirely. Now that our school leadership is headed for change we may get a breather from this “reform”. We should engage in a real public dialogue about our schools, what they mean to us, what we want from them, and how to get it.

I believe that supporting our existing system of local schools in their original buildings, within walking distance of the families they serve, is vital to the health of our city. I believe that maintaining the traditional school system, built over years of trial and error, one that provides a middle school that transitions students into high school, is best for our students. And I believe that there is no better use for a purpose-built school building than as centers of education and community involvement.

Therefore I would suggest that our board move to engage the new school superintendent, our local politicians, and our neighbors to rethink the program of school closures, K8's, and charter schools. As my own son approaches school age I am even more determined to see RCPE brought back to life. Perhaps until the school returns the neighborhood association could occupy the building for community events? I hope that we can think of a way to get involved in saving our school.

Sean: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 [+] |
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Thursday, September 06, 2007
Election Prognosis

It is about time to begin thinking about beginning to think about the 2008 election. As of yesterday I still like NY Mayor Rudy Guiliani. I also think that the upcoming battle will be against Hillary Clinton.

That makes the race a choice between "a man in a dress or a woman in pants"... by which I actually mean no discredit to either. And frankly I could probably stomach either one in the white house. Both are socially liberal and neither are naive about external threats.

However, there are some odd balls and up-and-commers in the crowd. I have always liked Illinois Senator Barak Obama... although I am aware that he is young and a bit fresh still. I also realize that he can play politics and also get played... as in when he supports coal mining (ecologically bad but economically necessary) in consideration to his S. Illinois constituents.

And then there is the actor and author and sometimes Senator Fred Thompson from Tennessee - who finally decided to officially do more than think about thinking about running. Thompson you may recall as the DA from Law and Order or as a Congressman or Pentagon official in movies such as The Hunt For Red October. He also writes political commentary at The National Review.

But I just took the online Political Candidate Quiz and it picked Barak when I do not weight my answers and Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd when I changed my national defense answers to "high importance". So, now I have to do some more research... because I thought that I was leaning towards the Republicans, but now the internet tells me that I am not. Sigh.

Sean: Thursday, September 06, 2007 [+] |
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